LITERATURE: The Last Days of Dogtown – Narrative Structure and Plot

It’s a strange setup here where we had a central event in the opening of the narrative that introduced most of the characters and skillfully revealed their relationships and a bit of background as they gathered at Easter Carter’s to pay respects to the dead Abraham Wharf. From there, Diamant drifts into focusing upon one or another of the characters, starting with Judy Rhines and Cornelius and moving on to Oliver and Tammi Younger, Ruth, Stanford, Sammy Stanley, Mrs. Stanley with Molly and Sally, etc. But the timeline on each is somewhat simultaneous beginning about three to five years after the death of Wharf. While there is interaction between a focused few of the characters, the others may be mentioned within each chapter’s central drama.

In other words, this is almost hypertext fodder as the reader could easily choose the character/chapter to read in any order after the initial two or three chapters and I don’t think it would make a difference in the story. Or would it? As we read what’s brought Molly and Sally to Dogtown, was it necessary to know the story of Ruth, or the relationship between Judy Rhines and Cornelius Finson? Up to this point in the narrative, I would disagree with the back cover blurb that Judy Rhines is the protagonist. I would lean more towards suggesting that each character becomes the main one within the chapter focusing upon his particular story. Beyond that, I would say that Easter Carter is a more compelling and grounding figure for the stories that are indeed individual but related.

It seems a bit disjointed and reminds me of Jamestown though Jamestown was a much clearer timeline pattern and point of view of the same events brought the story into a more regulated linearity. In Dogtown, the passage of time for each may start at the approximate same time, but the span is a bit more vague, approximating anyplace from a few months focused on a single dramatic event to several years as a relationship may develop. Within all these simultaneous time spans there is often included backstory to bring the characters into the present with a purpose or reason.

So the plot is fairly static in time, even as it is fairly smoothly transitioned between characters; interaction with one will bring on the next. Not sure I really see this as pacing the story of Dogtown, though I understand that to give such indepth insight into each character it might be a bit more difficult to juggle their stories. In the meantime, it seems to act as a memory bank to get to know an individual member of the community well, and then leave him afterward to move on to the others.

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